We attend a mega church in metro Atlanta. It is a 4 story building and the auditorium holds about 3,500 people. My son was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade. It was “wear your favorite superhero costume to church” day. Jake wore his favorite Batman costume, and so did hundreds of other kids. It was only Jake and me at church this day as his mom was out of town.
Since both my wife and I volunteered every Sunday at church, we parked in the same area of the church’s parking deck and walked the same route into the church and back out to our car. You had to go outside of the church and walk about 50 yards to get to the parking deck. We always used the escalators to get to the 3rd floor when we arrived at church, and we used the stairwell when we left the church to get back to the ground floor.
After the sermon, I went to pickup Jake from his kid area. There were probably 200 2nd-3rd graders in this kid area and many of them were dressed in costumes. A couple of handfuls were dressed as Batmans. I got our son from his small group and then we started to walk out of the small auditorium with all of the other 2nd-3rd grade parents and kids. As we were walking out, I saw an adult who I knew and we stopped to talk with each other for what seemed like only 60 seconds. After my discussion, I turned around and Jake was gone. I saw a bunch of Batmans, but none of them were my son and finding him was made even more difficult because of the costumes.
I looked everywhere for my son in the small auditorium and I couldn’t find him. I looked in the hallway, near the escalators, and around/in the bathrooms which were all in close proximity to the kid area. My heart started racing and I started to panic. I couldn’t find my son! I went downstairs to the ground floor where we and everyone else enters the church and I still couldn’t find my son. I grabbed one of the church employees and they locked down the church and announced on the walkie talkies that we were looking for my son.
The first thing they ask you when you lose your child is what does he/she look like? He looked like Batman. And so did hundreds of other kids. I felt sad, angry, lost and sick.
When you talk with other parents or adults about situations like this and ask them what they tell kids to do when they are lost, the overwhelming response is they tell the kids to look for someone who can help them. This is usually a police officer or someone of authority. First off, how the heck does an 8 year old child know what a person in a position of authority looks like in a church? Imagine if he was younger? Yes, most children regardless of their age, can tell you what a police officer looks like.
There are 2 main challenges with a 5, 6 or 8 year old trying to find a police officer or anyone else to help them when they are lost.
- First, the child is moving in order to find someone who can help them or to find the person they lost. This means that the child has moved from the exact spot where his/she was lost. Also, they are more than likely moving from the exact spot where the adult who lost the child is looking for him/her.
- Secondly, the adult or person who was responsible for this child is retracing their steps where they traveled with the child. In a situation like this, the adult can’t help but think like an adult. However, this is more than likely in complete contradiction to how a child is thinking in this situation. Additionally and give this great consideration, the child is looking from their own young eyes, and from their world level. Which is probably at least 3 feet or more lower than the adult’s eye level.
The 2 points above will hopefully come to life when I explain how the search for my son ended, where we found him and how he ended up there.
About 10 minutes had passed after I notified the church employee on the ground level of the church and she called on the walkie talkie. It seemed like an hour. I had to just stand there nervously doing nothing while they talked on the walkies. I felt so helpless and was obviously upset. The worst thought entered my mind. What if a bad person had taken my son?!
My son was brought to me by one of the parking deck volunteers. I hugged him so hard and didn’t say a word to him. He was crying. After we were reunited and I thanked everyone involved, I asked the parking deck volunteer how he came across him and he told me that Jake was in the parking deck. All I could do was hug my son and tell him that I loved him and that I was sorry that I had lost him. I don’t think I let him down from my grasp for an hour after that.
After we both got to a better emotional place, I asked Jake where he was when the adult found him. He said he was looking for our car. I asked him to show me how he got out of the church and he showed me the same route that we took every time we left church, the stairwell. Jake told me that he didn’t know I had stopped to talk to someone in the kids auditorium and he kept walking. When he looked up and didn’t see me he tried to catch up to me because he thought I was in front of him and had gone to the car. Trying to hold back tears, I told him that I would never ever leave without him.
Now every chance I get I preach to teachers, parents and kids, when a child realizes he/she is lost to SIT DOWN. Imagine the amount of attention that my Batman dressed son would have brought onto himself if he would have sat in the middle of the hallway or sidewalk with people passing him. I would bet any amount of money that adults would have asked him if he was ok and or if he was lost as they tried not to stumble over him.
The child can yell, scream or cry, but they must SIT DOWN! Don’t move an inch. Don’t try to find anyone. Don’t go to the nearest wall. I promise you and them that you will never ever regret teaching them this. Please, teach your child to SIT DOWN immediately when they realize they are lost.